Defending the air

JMU Double Duke masters high-impact leadership in the U.S. Army

by Ciara Brennan ('17)

Amanda (Bellistri) Del Re and then-fiánce Michael Del Re pose for engagement photos in Lewes, Delaware in 2011. Both were Captains at the time.

SUMMARY: Since graduating from JMU in 2006 with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, Army air defense artillery officer Amanda Del Re has served the country in high-stakes leadership positions in the field of air and missile defense.

In 2011, while on her deployment in Logar, Afghanistan, Amanda Del Re (’06, ’06M) started a book club with her husband Michael, who was deployed in Nangahar, Afghanistan. They initially tried to hold reading discussions over the phone, but even when they were able to connect, there was a six-second audio delay, “which is enough to drive you crazy.” As a workaround, they emailed each other their analyses of the books they read. “We had a lot of fun with that,” she said. 

Del Re completed JMU’s ROTC program and graduated with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from JMU in 2006. Since then, she has transitioned between high-stakes leadership positions in the field of air and missile defense, beginning with her first deployment to Iraq a year after graduation, where she served as platoon leader of a Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar platoon. There, Del Re led a group of 40 soldiers responsible for detecting any rockets, artillery or mortar that could pose a threat to U.S. troops. As a battery commander in Kuwait, Del Re was responsible for the training, readiness, discipline and development of 238 soldiers in a Patriot battalion.

In Afghanistan, she ran a tactical operations center “that was pretty much 100% chaos 100% of the time.” Del Re had to rely heavily on the critical thinking and communication skills she developed through JMU’s English program. 

Del Re said she rarely meets fellow soldiers with English or liberal arts backgrounds, which could be due, in part, to the common misconception that someone with a degree in the arts might not be capable of succeeding in a technical field. Del Re not only disagrees with that notion, she’s proof to the contrary. 

“At the end of the day, it’s all about effectively communicating, thinking outside the box, being able to formulate a good argument with evidence,” Del Re said. “And I think the arts ... is a really good way to develop all those skills.”

Del Re (right) serves as a Commander of Troops during a Change of Command Ceremony in Fort Hood, Texas in 2018.
Del Re and her family in her hometown of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in July 2020.

When counseling new subordinates, Del Re likes to include a surprising bullet point on her list of expectations: Make sure you’re reading, nonfiction and fiction. “You have to keep your mind stimulated,” she said. “And I always tell them that I feel like fiction is [truer] than nonfiction because the (fiction) author has this kind of facade that he or she can hide behind to tell the absolute truth.” 

The 1959 fiction novel Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein impacted Del Re during her deployment in Kuwait, illustrating leadership traits that are just as necessary today. With several years of combat experience in leadership positions, the missile defense planner knows what makes an effective leader. Through her life experiences, she’s learned that empathy is essential. 

“I feel like I probably didn’t start off as empathetic, and a lot of people probably don’t because you have this tough-love mentality,” Del Re said. “You know, we’re soldiers and we should be tough.” 

But ultimately, “We’re a people business, and the Army is all about teaching and growing and developing leaders ... so, if we don’t have our people and our people don’t want to do what the Army needs them to do, we don’t have an effective Army.” 

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Published: Monday, November 9, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, June 3, 2021

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